The opposition PNCR has lost four consecutive elections. Despite the first three of these losses however, it was able to retain the support of 41% of the electorate but at the last elections, it slipped eight percentage points. How does it recover from these defeats?
No party will ever find it easy, if at all possible, to convert an electoral showing of 33% to over 50% in a short span of five years.
And if during those five years, the economy of the country grew impressively, if the people have enjoyed their best days ever, if the redistribution program meant that improvements were visible throughout the country, then it makes the task of winning a majority almost impossible.
But where there is life there is hope, and an opposition party facing such an uphill task as the PNCR, was faced with certain options if it wanted to give the elections its best shot.
The first would have been to try to form an alliance with the AFC, which won an impressive five seats in its first electoral outing. Not even the WPA, which at one stage had said that it would reduce the then PNC to a 10% party was able to win five seats in 1992. With the AFC under a big tent coalition, there was a better, but not guaranteed chance that the coalition could gain the requisite votes to win the presidency.
However, the AFC was never going to trust the PNCR in any coalition arrangement. The PNCR joined with the PPPC after the 2006 elections to deny the AFC the Chairmanship of some regions.
The PNCR could have instead joined with the AFC to shut out the PPP from the Chairmanship after the 2006 elections but opted to join forces with the PPP. It also went back on some of its commitments to the PPP. This would have soured its relationship with the AFC and the PPP and made the PNCR an untrustworthy partner.
The AFC was equally not predisposed towards joining with the PNCR or the PPP because it sees itself as having the possibility of holding the balance of power in an instance where none of the main parties obtain a majority of seats. The very formation of the AFC was to offer itself as an alternative to these two parties. As such it would have been against the philosophy of the AFC to form an alliance with the PNCR.
In these circumstances of the inability of the PNCR to forge an alliance with the AFC, the PNCR should have forgotten about coalition politics and instead allow the other small fractional parties to eat away into the ruling party’s support so as to further reduce the ruling party’s share of the electorate.
It was in the PNCR’s interest to allow as many small opposition parties to contest the elections since these would have had a better chance of undermining the ruling party’s hold on the electorate.
The PNCR would have lost some support to these small parties but the ruling party would have lost more, meaning that its overall hold on the electorate would have been reduced.
It made no sense for the PNCR to go into a partnership with marginal parties unless the partnership could have eroded both the PPP and the AFC’s support. The strategy of a partnership of one main party, the PNCR, with a number of groupings that have little or no electoral support, leaves the partnership worse off than had the PNCR contested under its own name.
Why is APNU likely to gain less votes than if the PNCR had contested alone? APNU will gain less votes because it is an alliance of one major party with a set of weaker groupings that bring little real support to the partnership. In forging such a partnership, a number of the leaders of the main opposition party are going to be disaffected. These leaders may not express it but there is bound to be some divisions as to the prominence being given to APNU’s minor partners considering the votes they are likely to bring to the partnership.
APNU is not even running its campaign out of Congress Place and many of the supporters of the PNCR are bound to be confused as to what this partnership is about.
Against this background, APNU will struggle to even retain the 33% that the PNCR polled in the 2006 elections. And this is going to be devastating for the PNCR because once its electoral support falls below 30%, it is going to have a hard time recovering in future elections and may possibly lose members on a mass scale to both the PPP and the AFC.
The latter is expected to continue to make gains because the good economic ties mean that the middle class is growing. And the middle class has historically wended its way to middle class capitalist parties. So the PNCR in gambling with a coalition of miniscule groupings is not likely to obtain the support of the growing middle class.
The main objective of the PNCR going in to the 2011 elections should have been at the minimum to regain the 33% it enjoyed and if possible extend this to the 41% it commanded in earlier polls. The PNCR cannot be unrealistic and expect to close an eighteen percentage point gap between itself and the PPP in five years, and definitely not after the flattering performance of the economy from 2006 to date.
Nowhere in the world, has any ruling party with an eighteen percentage point advantaged surrendered that lead in a subsequent election after five years of impressive economic growth. It has not happened anywhere else in the world and it is not likely to happen in Guyana.
But the opposition has to go into an election believing that it can win. And it has to design a strategy to win. What would have been a better strategy?
A better strategy would have been to try to hold its traditional base while winning greater support from those that have traditionally not supported the PNCR. The PNCR just needs to win a small fraction of its non- traditional support to do well, providing it is able to retain its traditional base that it had in the 1992, 1997 and 2001 polls. Winning over non-traditional supporters requires smart politics. APNU has to reach out to the opposition supporters. It has to ask itself whether that incident at the PPP’s rally in Buxton is going to win it support from non-traditional supporters or will it scare those supporters back to the PPP. It has to ask itself if its supporters’ heckling of Donald Ramotar during the UG debate, to the point where at times he could not effectively make his presentation, is going to win it support from within traditional PPP supporters who may have grown disaffected by the corruption that has taken root within the government. When reservations are expressed about the role of observers, what signal is this sending to those within the PPP camp who may have been willing to “dis” their party.
APNU is not doing itself any favour by the way it is approaching these elections and one can only hope that when the results are in it accepts its failures and do not try to deflect its loss under someone else.
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